Monday, December 24, 2012
The last few days have seen a number of protests against the most brutal violence perpetrated against a woman. The doctors said that they have never seen such gruesome injuries in a sexual assault. It is no surprise that it woke us up from our slumber and made us to take to the streets asking for death for the perpetrators, action against the lax policemen and justice for the woman. I hope all this angst and collective action would see quick, appropriate and stern action against the criminals.
Yet, I feel very agitated and sort of lost. Last night I was at Thane railway station, with my 11 year old niece, who was just lost in her own world just having fun with us. A girl who is on the threshold of adolescence not yet told to behave like a “Grown-Up Girl”. A man in his forties was ogling at her. I was shocked and started staring at him to make him know that he is being observed and the mother of the child also joined me in staring at him. He averted his gaze and started looking at her surreptitiously. We could see that he was self conscious and was ashamed.
Why did I find his gaze only objectionable and not of the others? What would be the reaction of the others if I say that he is ogling at the child? Will I have anybody supporting me? Don’t you think people will say that I am reading too much into it and that my activism is going out of control? More importantly, if he could ogle at a child with such impunity in a public place when she is in the company of her family, will any girl be safe in this city?
I always wonder why we always ask only the women/girls who face such violence to take action or the police and judiciary to respond quickly. What about us who are ‘safe’ for the time being? What is our collective responsibility to make our spaces safe for girls and women? Eve teasing is fun, it is a lesser evil, it is harm less, it is part of growing up – any number of justifications to let it pass. Men who misbehave say rubbing against women in public places, groping, pinching and squeezing are all unintentional, harmless physical encounters in crowded public places. Every woman and girl knows how humiliating and disgusting it is.
Yes, I do agree that girls/women should lodge complaints, police should take quick action and courts should ensure that such criminals do not go scot free. But, who is going to work for a social environment where there is zero tolerance for such behavior, where woman/girl feel empowered enough to lodge complaints and police are sensitive enough to take them seriously? When do we take the time to simply stop and stare and make a person conscious of the fact that he is being watched and his misbehavior is being noted instead of looking the other way or walking away unconcerned? Just imagine 30 pairs of eyes looking at a violator and making him feel isolated, marginalized and self conscious? The behavior could be leering, whistling, hooting, passing comments or the so called inadvertent touch. There should be zero tolerance for all. We as passersby, users of public spaces should reclaim these spaces for ourselves and not yield to others who indulge in such violence. If we react only when there is a ghastly crime the impact is limited to only that particular incident, as action is initiated under public pressure and media activism.
Anti-smoking campaign became successful in marginalizing the smokers, only when the smokers claimed their right to smoke free public spaces. We can learn from it. We will have safe public spaces only when men and women, boys and girls have zero tolerance for any kind of violence.
It was heartening to see many men shouting slogans and supporting the woman fighting for her life and asking for death for the perpetrators of the crime. What is the tolerance threshold of these young men? At what level does violence against women bother them? Do they react only when it happens to their friends, girl friends, sisters or other family members or do they react anywhere and anytime the same way? What is harmless Ched Chad? How do they define atyachhaar? It is important to know, because they are critical players in making the world safe for us all by building a culture of zero-tolerance to violence.
The latest Delhi incident has shaken us out of our stupor, with not just the activists but common men and women joining the protests. Let’s not lose steam. Let’s keep asking the question Ched Chad Kyon? Hinsachhar Kyon? Atyachar Kyon? at every possible forum and context. Promote critical thinking in schools and colleges on gender violence and come up with strategies at the micro level to combat the problem in housing societies, in local area management committees, at street corners, railway stations, bus stands and what have you. We cannot let go of it as yet another exceptional case, but make it the turning point to redefine how we view violence against women.
(A small attempt is made by Laadli under its Question Everything initiative where students raised questions regarding gender violence through 1 minute movies. View them at www.1mm.co.in and please feel free to use the films to initiate discussion on gender violence. There is also a powerful play titled “Ched Chad Kyon” by Mr. Manjul Bhardwaj (firstname.lastname@example.org) which could also be used to initiate discussions on gender violence with the youth.